More expensive drugs added to subsidised list

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 February, 2011, 12:00am

The Hospital Authority will expand its list of prescription drugs covered by government subsidies to include more than 50 medicines, benefiting about 52,000 patients.

The new drug list, which will take effect in April, was among sweeteners announced by Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah in his budget last week, which earmarked HK$2.74 billion for the Hospital Authority to improve services, including wider coverage of its drug formulary and shorter waiting time for specialist services.

The expansion of the drug list will cost HK$237 million.

Among the items on the new list is a drug for colorectal cancer called capecitabine.

The other additional items cover major diseases such as psychiatric illnesses, renal diseases, thalassaemia, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, glaucoma and hepatitis B.

The 50 items are specialist drugs that are normally paid for by patients except those who fall into the special categories of health conditions to justify subsidies, according to the authority.

This means an additional 52,000 patients will pay less for using those drugs in future.

Dr Leung Ka-lau, the lawmaker for the medical constituency, said he was unable to comment on the new drug formulary without knowing the details. However, he criticised the authority for lack of transparency about how it decided which medicines should be added.

'There should be some objective and scientific criteria on how the authority decides which drugs are justified to be put on the list to benefit more patients,' Leung said. 'They are very secretive about the decision-making process.'

The authority launched a central drug formulary in 2005 under which some drugs not on the standard list have to be bought.

However, the formulary has drawn criticism over what drugs should be subsidised.

The issue triggered a heated debate in 2009 when a public hospital asked the family of a road accident victim to pay HK$21,000 for possibly life-saving specialist medicine.

In that case, Wong Pui, 26, was admitted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital after she was badly injured by a minibus. She suffered serious internal bleeding and doctors proposed using NovoSeven, which is mainly used to control bleeding in haemophiliacs.

The family had to pay HK$21,000 for four doses before the drug - a dose of which costs up to HK$9,000 in some private hospitals - could be administered.

Under the hospital's scheme, expensive drugs would not be given free if they are used in a different category other than those labelled.

After the incident attracted widespread public attention, the authority promised to review the scheme governing the use of expensive drugs.

Tonic for the sick

The inclusion of more drugs for subsidy will cost HK$237 million

The amount, in HK dollars, earmarked under the new budget for the Hospital Authority to improve its services: $2.7b